by Lang Whitaker

As we do every year at the end of the season, it’s time to take a look back at the year in The Links. What follows are things I wrote and posted on The Links between October and All-Star Weekend. This should keep you busy for a while. Have at it.

• Right before the season started, I went to lunch with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. The topic quickly turned to the new basketballs the NBA was introducing.

“Make sure you write this correctly,” Kenny said, “but yes, I was the ball tester.”

“I knew it!” Barkley shouted. “You coming out tonight? This is the perfect place, because it’ll be in every newspaper tomorrow. We’re still gonna love you.”

And after Ernie Johnson spoke about shaving his head during his cancer treatments, I learned, courtesy of Charles Barkley, that white men should not be afraid to shave their heads.

“I will say this,” the Chuckster said, “and not to sound racist, but one of the great travesties of American history is white men who are afraid to shave their heads, thinking they’re going to have an ugly head. There’s nothing wrong with their heads. But some of these hairdos, they’ve got to go, they’ve got to come on home. Shave their damn heads. There’s nothing wrong with your head. Sometimes I see some of these guys with the comb-overs or the bad toupees, and I’m like, Hey man, do you think you should shave that shit? Ain’t nothing going to be wrong with your head. The myth that white men can’t shave their head is just that, it’s a myth.”

• I’ve been trying to come up with a name for the Suns offense for years, one that will stick and be the defining name for the their style of play (Run and Gun, Sun and Gun, Run and Fun, etc.), and last night it hit me: When they’re rolling and hitting shots and the defenders look exhausted, it’s…The Downhill Offense. Because that’s what it looks like, as they keep running and running and the defenders struggle to get out and defend open shots. Anyone got any better ideas?

• Cheryl Miller read a statement from Kobe’s website about his absence. Nice reporting. I mean, I could have done that. In fact, I’ll do that now. This is from Kobe’s website:

I’m excited about this season.
I can’t wait to play.
The energy of opening night is always special.
We are beginning our journey. We will face many obstacles and challenges, but we will face them TOGETHER AS ONE.
The excitement of tonight was beginning to cloud my judgment of playing, I want to play, BUT I am not there yet. I am rounding 3rd base and will be home SOON.
Big thanks to all you, I love all the support. It helps fuel my drive.
WE WILL STAY IN TOUCH, THIS IS MY HOME.
AND MI CASA ES SU CASA.
Enjoy the site.
– Mamba

I don’t know who’s helping Kobe write stuff for his website, but if it was me I think I’d advise him to avoid making references to getting to third base, if you know what I mean.

• Joe Johnson is going to be an All-Star this year. Through three games he’s averaging 29 points per, and is shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor almost all on long jumpers. I love watching Joe get after it out there. He alone makes Hawks games worth watching.

• Someone in the know emailed me to point out that Doug Collins is wearing a Jacob the Jeweler watch on TNT. “It was unreal, big-faced, minimum five colors. Think he has different color bands to coordinate his outfits?”

• Stephen A. Smith’s articles are about ten times as much fun to read if you imagine Stephen A.’s voice in your head while you read them.

• Through the first three days of the season, there have been 17 games played and there have been—get this—46 technical fouls called. That doesn’t differentiate between illegal defense calls and techs called for general dissent, but it’s still a tremendous amount, nearly three per game.

Being a referee must be a high-stress job, right? Part of your gig is that a lot of the people in the crowd are going to make fun of you while you work. And now that the refs have been told they don’t have to take it anymore, well, they’re not taking it anymore. The refs have been told, finally, to stand up for themselves.

And we’re seeing the results night after night.

Welcome to the new NBA.

Hope you like watching referees blow whistles.

• Charles Barkley on the Phoenix Suns: “Until they address their defensive rebounding, they’re gonna be like that pretty girl you go out with, then you take her home and she takes her weave out and you’re like, Wow, you’re not as pretty as I thought you were.”

• I asked Robert Horry which was worse: My school, Georgia, losing in football to Vanderbilt, or his school, Alabama, losing to Mississippi State. Horry went with UGA, because he’s sort of a Sylvester Croom fan.

Horry’s got a PS3 on hold, but he said he really hasn’t had time to play his XBox 360 lately.

Overheard from one Spurs player: “I hate, I hate, I hate the new f*cking ball.”

• I told Tony Parker that my wife, who knows nothing about sports, suddenly asks me about Tony all the time now that he’s a regular in US Weekly and all those magazines. “You can tell your wife everything is fine,” he said—yes, he and Eva are still together. He also gave me his new cellphone number, which ends with a multiple of his jersey number: “9999.”

• From my review of “Committed: The Christies”…
Whoa!!!!!!! Now we’re getting somewhere. During a singularly mundane dinner conversation, Doug tells the table that his wife has not only seen a ghost called Bloody Mary (had to Google that one) but that she’s also seen Sasquatch, who was crossing I-5 at the time she spotted it. Doug laughs while he says this, but Jackie isn’t playing. She says there were a several people who called the police that day claiming they also saw Sasquatch. Jackie says this happened in Seattle and that Sasquatch was big, “like 6-8 or something.” Jackie says everyone laughs whenever she tells the story, but it really is true. Sasquatch was covered in hair and was “tan colored.” Doug’s former coach/entourage member Pete asks if he looked like Squatch from the Sonics. Everyone laughs (including me) but Jackie says that actually, yes, he did look like the Sonics mascot. Jackie adds that it was raining that day. Her friend Siobhan asks if Sasquatch is based in Seattle. Jackie says, “No, I think he travels…”

• I now like Jackie Christie about one thousand times more than I did 15 minutes ago.

• Richard Jefferson could make a quick return from injury, in part because the Nets say he’s a fast healer. Has there ever been an athlete who was injured who didn’t immediately announce after an injury that he was hoping to return quickly because he’s a fast healer? Maybe they’re all just regular healers but doctors are universally bad at estimating healing times.

• In the locker room, the Hawks all seemed pretty ticked about the loss. Joe Johnson sat in his locker, silent, for about five minutes before taking a shower. After a while they seemed to move on, and I told Josh Childress that I thought he needed a haircut. He asked why, and I told him it was because I turned on a game last week and thought Billy Knight was out there playing.

• Interesting chess move by Billy Hunter and the Player’s Association. They’ve signed a deal with a supplement company to provide pills and powders and all that stuff to each team. The Players did not run this by the League office, probably because the NBA did not go to them for input when they signed their deal for the new balls or the new tougher technical foul rules. The League says, “It has been the NBA policy that our players should not take supplements,” which basically means the Player’s Association did this as a big screw you to the NBA. This could get fun, fast. If they really want to get the League angry they should sign a deal with Hustler to make them the official magazine of the NBA Players.

• I got in the security line at JFK and we inched along slowly. The highlight of that experience was when some dude showed up and had only a few minutes until his plane boarded, so he tried to run up a down escalator. He missed a step and stumbled halfway up, and everyone watching let out a loud “Whoa!” Seconds later he hit the top and stumbled forward about five steps before finally flipping into a forward somersault, landing flat on his back, spread eagle. That drew a huge roar from the crowd, myself included. I don’t know if that was somehow captured on a security video camera, but that would be in the running for the $100,000 prize on “America’s Funniest Home Video.”

• I know Henry Abbott is trying to sell this “Swiss Mister” nickname for Thabo Sefalosha, but we have to come up with something better than that, right? I like “The Human Lisp.”

• Sasha Vujacic looks like a club kid who won a contest and was plucked off the set of “Entourage” and allowed to play a game for the Lakers.

• Worst news of the day? While surfing all the NBA sites I saw several McDonald’s ads about how this is the “farewell tour” for the McRib, one of the greatest sandwiches in the history of fast food. I guess for Thanksgiving, I’ll be thankful that I was able to enjoy the McRib for as long as I have. I still recall in college when we heard it was going to be instituted as a sandwich of the month, and me and my friend Rich tried to organize a campaign to get people to eat as many as possible over that month to cause a spike in the McRib sales numbers so they’d have to keep it on the menu. Didn’t work, though.

• Don’t think the NBA’s serious about this cleaning up the League business? I was talking to an NBA player last week who told me he’d recently been fined $2,500 for playing the fourth quarter of a game with a drawstring of his shorts hanging out. Seriously. And this is a guy who’s never in trouble, never been fined before.

• On Thanksgiving day, I was assigned the task of cooking the turkey. In general, cooking doesn’t seem so tough to me, as long as you follow the recipe you’re given step-by-step and don’t screw anything up. And I’ve been cooking on the regular for the last few years, ever since I moved to NYC, so I figured a turkey couldn’t be that much more difficult than a steak or a chicken. But good gosh was it hard. Took me all afternoon the day before Thanksgiving just to get stuff ready, then I had to wake up at 9:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning to get the turkey in the oven. Not fun. And the turkey is such a big bird, it’s nearly impossible to get it all cooked evenly and flavored well—it’s like trying to cook a car. No wonder the pilgrims were so miserable.

• Did you see that call Joey Crawford blew in the first quarter of the Heat/Pistons game? The Pistons had the ball and were trying to post up Nazr Mohammed. Gary Payton was on the opposite block and he ran across the lane to “show” a double team (to pretend like he was going to double team Mohammed and discourage the Pistons from passing the ball into him). GP ran over, actually tapped Mohammed on the back to demonstrate that he’d made an effort to really get to Mohammed (as opposed to just jogging halfway across the lane and then sauntering back to take up space, which will almost always result in a defensive three seconds call). Watching the game live, I noticed that happen and thought, “That was a pretty savvy play by GP, because now there’s no way they can say he didn’t make an effort to actually get within an arm’s length of Nazr.”

And Joey Crawford called defensive three seconds on him anyway. GP tried to argue, and you could read his lips saying, “I touched him!” as Crawford said, “No, you didn’t.” TNT had a great replay of it, with Payton iso’d as he ran over and tapped Mohammed on the back and then ran back. But because of the new “no bitching” rules, nobody on the Heat put up much of an argument, and the Pistons made their technical free throw and the game went on. Not that big a deal—I’m sure multiple calls were missed both ways all night—but interesting that it was so obvious.

• I also like that Sergio Rodriguez dude, because he’s able to dish that ball while being constantly on the verge of getting called for a travel. Almost every time he brought the ball up he’d shuffle his feet or take a wild dribble or something. Anyway, he played great last night, finishing with 11 assists.

• In Dallas locker room pregame, Sagana Diop was holding court, talking to anyone and everyone. He even came over and gave me a hug, and I barely know him. Jason Terry grabbed the new copy of SLAM and went through it meticulously, from back to front, like a lot of people seem to do. (You guys understand that we plan it to be read from front to back, right?)

Later, Diop was sitting in someone else’s locker with a bunch of Gucci shopping backs stuffed behind it. I asked Sagana if he’d been shopping at Gucci, and he said the bags were Erick Dampier’s and that he couldn’t really afford to shop at Gucci. “I need to go down to Canal St., man,” Diop noted, showing a surprisingly accurate understanding of where the best fakes in New York are sold. When I told Diop that I bet he could afford to go to the real Gucci store, he laughed and said, “But if you’re an NBA player, you can have the fake stuff and everyone thinks it’s real.” Hmm…someone check his tags.

• There was a note recently in the Newark Star-Ledger about Marcus Williams shooting more than he’s been passing of late, and about how Vince Carter in particular didn’t seem to be happy about this. Well, early in the second quarter, the Nets were working the ball around the perimeter and Vince was standing all alone in the corner, waiting patiently for the ball to be swung around to him. The guy to Vince’s right, up at the top of the key, was Marcus. As the ball started coming to Marcus, but before he even had his hands on it, Vince screamed, “Swing it!” at him, as if to warn him that he better swing that damn ball to him. He did. Vince missed the shot.

• I think that every game I’ve ever been to where he’s played, Anthony Johnson has shot an airball three-pointer.

• Highlight of the game comes when ref Joey Crawford walks over to the baseline for an inbounds play, just a few yards away from us, and he turns to someone in the front row of the stands and gives them a glare. He then gets a security person’s attention and loudly says, “If this guy says any more I want him out of here!” Meanwhile, all the players are kind of standing around, waiting to see what’s going to happen. Anthony Johnson is the inbounds guy, standing by Crawford, and he nervously tucks in his jersey about 25 times while this is happening. Moments later, Crawford spins around again and says, “That’s it, get him out of here!” It takes a few seconds, but they escort the guy out.

After the game, NBA discipline underboss Stu Jackson issued this statement about the incident: “Joey first motioned to the security guard to escort the guy off of the court, and he was coming up onto the floor. When security was ready to tell the fan [to] get off the court and give him a warning, the fan then used repeated profanity directed at the official. At that point, the fan was removed.”

I wasn’t near enough to hear what was said by the fans, but a player who was nearby during all of this told me later that the guy had been riding Crawford all night, and after Crawford issued his warning, the guy said, “Hey Joey, maybe you should pay for my ticket.” And that’s when Crawford threw him out. Doesn’t sound like profanity to me, but maybe the player cleaned it up for this family publication. Someone else who was near this exchange thinks Crawford may have confused a few of the fans.

• Next thing I knew, the Hawks had Shelden Williams at the line with the chance to take the lead. Denver announcer Chris Marlowe said the good thing about this for Denver was that Shelden Williams is a bad free throw shooter. Maybe he’s a bad shooter from the floor, but he’s shooting 81 percent from the line on the season, and last season at Duke he shot 74 percent on free throws. He drilled both freebies and the Hawks went on to win the game.

As the Hawks left the floor, pumped from the win, the Denver broadcasters said that Josh Smith appeared to be yelling at someone. And Scott Hastings, the former Hawks reserve who now does color commentary for the Nuggets, said Josh Smith “is showing how stupid he is.”

Wait, did he really say that?

Yes, he did. Funny that someone who mistakenly called Josh Smith “Joe Smith” for most of the fourth quarter would label a player “stupid,” but Hastings did.

Worse, he didn’t say it was a stupid decision or stupid behavior (which it probably was), he said Josh Smith was stupid.

Hopefully he misspoke. If not, really classy.

• When the Nets/Suns game started, I decided I wasn’t going to take play-by-play notes, but I opened my notebook and pulled out a pen just in case. In retrospect, this was a tremendous idea, because I probably would have set my pen on fire from having to write so much, so fast.

With a few minutes to go, it was coming down to the wire. I predicted a Suns win, just because they are conditioned to play in exactly these kinds of circumstances. But the Nets hung in there, kept attacking and kept running. They built a lead, and were up by three with a few seconds left. The Suns called a timeout and took the ball out of bounds at halfcourt. Do you foul and prevent a three and send them to the line for two shots? Or do you let them go and hope they miss a three? The Nets (specifically, Vince Carter) fouled Boris Diaw. And it was Vince’s sixth foul, so he was disqualified. He said later he thought he had four fouls, so it would’ve been his fifth. But if he had five fouls and the plan was to foul, why was he even in the game? And why did they foul right away? Why not burn off a few seconds?

Diaw hit both free throws, and the Suns fouled the Nets right away. Kidd hit both free throws to make it a three point game, and the Suns called their last timeout with 4.1 left. They came back to halfcourt, and after what seemed like 4.99999 seconds, Diaw threw it in to Nash, who came off a Kurt Thomas pick and drained a clutch three from the top of the key. Suns assistant Alvin Gentry hopped off the bench and screamed, “Yes sir motherf*ckers!”

The interesting thing with this play was that the Suns obviously needed a three, right? So why did Mikki Moore, who was guarding Thomas on the play, move back and play behind Kurt Thomas, as if he was guarding against a backdoor cut from Nash or a roll by Thomas? He should’ve played on top of the pick to ensure the Suns couldn’t get a three, and sacrifice the chance of the Suns going for two. But he didn’t.

• Overtime number two, and Nash started it by hitting consecutive threes and then a layup, and the Nets posted a comeback to tie it again. Funniest play of the night came toward the end of the second overtime, when Kidd made a nice drive and got the and-one, and as the ball went through the rim Kidd slid into press row. Antoine Wright ran over to celebrate and slipped on Kidd’s sweat, and he ended up sliding into Kidd, kicking him on the leg.

Nash was quietly brilliant all night, but my favorite play of his came in the second overtime. The Nets had a small lineup in with three point guards (Nash, Marcus Williams, Eddie House) and two small forwards (Antoine Wright and Richard Jefferson) and they were making a push to get back in the game. And after a long three from one of the Nets, the Suns threw it in to Nash, who without hesitation tossed a fullcourt pass that went about two inches over the outstretched arms of Richard Jefferson and hit Shawn Marion on a dead run, right under the rim, for a layup. I don’t know many other point guards who would’ve even tried that pass, much less pulled it off.

When the dust settled, the numbers were amazing:

— Phoenix 161, New Jersey 157
— Kidd finished with 38 points, 14 rebounds (all defensive rebounds) and 14 assists
— Nash had a career-high 42 points and 13 assists
— Shawn Marion played 49 minutes and scored 33 points
— Vince Carter had 31 points and 9 assists
— Boris Diaw had 16 points and 14 assists
— There were 34 lead changes
— The Suns hit 17 of 31 from three, and the Nets went 10 for 21

After the game, I walked into the Suns locker room, and Boris Diaw was sitting in his locker, wearing only a towel and flip-flops, sipping on a cup of coffee. His legs were casually crossed and he looked totally relaxed, as if he was killing time at a cafe along the Champs Elysees. “What I want to know,” I said to Boris, “is how did you get 14 assists and 16 points and play 40 minutes but end up with only 1 rebound?”

Boris smiled and said, “I was busy boxing people out. Everyone else was getting the rebounds.”

• Jim Gray is back-pedaling like crazy, saying maybe he did talk to AI after all even though he had to go on the air and apologize and say he hadn’t spoken to AI after he went on the air and said he’d spoken to AI. Got all that?

• My favorite part of any of this is Stephen A. Smith writing in the Philly paper: “Today, the primary concern should be preventing Iverson from becoming Charles Barkley, Part II, making sure the Sixers don’t let go of their latest mercurial star for a bag of cheap beans thrown in the trash after Thanksgiving.”

What does that mean? I have no idea, but it’s beautiful. And like Stephen A., I hate cheap beans, too.

• I also get that he’s not the most graceful player, that he probably leads the League in offensive fouls, that in the NBA of the ’80s he’d probably be a reserve player. And heck, you might not even like Eddy Curry, which is fine. But can’t we just have some fun for once? How great would it be to see Eddy go to Vegas and have just one of Isiah’s moves validated?

• Funniest line of the night came from one of the Hawks players, who was calling Nate Robinson “Li’l 50,” for his resemblance to Mr. Curtis Jackson. Also, Cedric Bozeman “accidentally” walked into the Knicks City Dancers locker room across the hall from the Hawks locker room.

• “30 Rock”—My favorite comedy on a network this season. Very, very well-written, and always funny. Last night, for instance, there was a scene with Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey. Baldwin’s character has suspected all season that Fey’s character is a lesbian, even though Fey has a boyfriend, etc.

So last night Fey walks into Baldwin’s office and sits down with an angry look on her face, and Baldwin glances up and says, “What’s the matter, did the Liberty lose last night?”

• Early All-Star voting has been released, and SLAMonline.com’s official candidate, Eddy Curry, apparently isn’t even on the ballot—he’s not listed among the top ten centers in the East. I’m concerned there might be a voting error because Zaza Pachulia is somehow sixth, and he can’t even dunk.

• So I had to go to a holiday party with Wifey tonight, which I’d committed to months ago. This meant not only missing the Falcons/Cowboys game, but also the Knicks/Nuggets and my main man Carmelo Anthony. But I figured that the Nuggets are only in NYC twice a year, so I hopped down to Madison Square Garden for pregame, spoke to Melo for a few minutes (he snuck me into the hallway by the trainer’s room), then I headed out for dinner and the party.

And then about three hours later, my Sidekick started blowing up.

If like me you missed it (and by all accounts, most of the fans who were at the Garden missed it, too), what happened was the Nuggets had a 20 point lead as the clock was winding down, and JR Smith was on a breakaway layup when Mardy Collins, who looks like he’s about 35 years old, took him out hard with a flagrant foul. JR Smith didn’t like this, and he got in Collins’ face. Then Nate Robinson and JR got involved, and then after they tumbled into the crowd, Carmelo Anthony landed a hook on Collins. Jared Jeffries then went after Melo and got tackled, landing flat on his face. (And one of the assistant coaches threw a clipboard full of papers all over the place, like confetti.)

• I was at an NBA team’s practice on Monday when word came down about the suspensions for Melo and everyone else, and after the 15-game hammer dropped I spoke to: a) someone who is very close to Melo; b) a high-ranking NBA executive; c) a couple of prominent NBA players d) a few people who are close to prominent NBA players. Since then I’ve been in contact with Melo’s people and talked about it with other NBA folk, and it’s been nearly unanimous that 15 games is a ridiculously long suspension considering the crime. This is not meant to absolve Melo: Defending his teammate or not, he shouldn’t have hauled off and smacked Mardy Collins like that, especially after things had settled down. But 15 games? The Sternbot is making a point, and Melo finds himself at the end of Stern’s pointer.

• While LeBron was getting dressed, someone alerted him to the presence of a huge bowl of mayonnaise on the postgame food table, and Bron was immediately and visibly repulsed by it. I started telling Bron about how I offered Sam $5 a few years ago in the Knicks press room to eat a heaping spoonful of what was either mayonnaise or vanilla pudding. (Well, we told Sam it was either mayonnaise or vanilla pudding. I knew it was mayo. Sam found out rather quickly.)

Bron cut me off, a disgusted look on his face: “I don’t want to hear the end of that story.”

I also caught up with former SLAM rookie diary keeper Drew Gooden, who I hadn’t seen in a while. After the game Drew was sitting in his locker with his feet in a big bucket of ice, and an older sportswriter wandered past and said aloud, “I haven’t seen a bucket of ice that big since the last time I was in a hockey locker room.”

A few seconds later, Drew asked me, “I wonder why hockey players ice their feet after a game?”

Incredible question. And I had no answer.

• A few weeks ago I went out to L.A. for a few days and wrote about going to a Lakers practice. What I didn’t write about was that I was there to do a feature on Andrew Bynum for the current issue of SLAM (with Melo my man on the front).

After practice, I was all ready to sit down and talk with Andrew, but he asked if I would mind if we went out to his car (a Mercedes S600). Sure, I said. So we went out to his car got in and started driving around. Andrew decided he was hungry, so we ended up at…

Sam’s favorite restaurant…Quizno’s! I took two pictures with my Sidekick, one of Bynum looking like Tracy Morgan and one of Andrew signing an autograph for a guy named Johnny who was making the sandwiches. You Lakers bloggers should have fun with these.

• Goodbye, Czar of the Telestrator. The rumors about Mike Fratello’s impending demise had been circulating for a while, but I was shocked when he was actually canned by the Grizzlies yesterday. During his tenure in Memphis, Fratello was 95-83 and was the franchise’s winningest coach. They won 49 games last year, and though they’d started 6-24 this season, they’d been playing without their best player and they lost both Lawrence Roberts and SLAM Rookie Diary writer Kyle Lowry to injuries.

Look, there’s no way the Grizz are making the Playoffs this year. So why not tank the season and go hard after Greg Oden? The Grizz actually have the worst record in the NBA right now, and being in the West, they’ll play a tougher schedule than Philly or Charlotte the rest of the way. And Jerry West seems to have a knack for helping resuscitate things by bringing in a big man from time to time. Gasol and Oden? Ugggly, but hellacious.

• The Central Division is red-hot right now, and the Bucks have won six straight. Check out the lede in this story in today’s Milwaukee paper:

The Milwaukee Bucks, winners of six consecutive games, are the hottest team in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference. Are they making believers out of people that maybe – just maybe – this team could be for real?

The next line should be something about Terry Stotts coaching the team and people realizing there’s no way they’re for real. The story also doesn’t mention that the six wins were against Minnesota, Miami, Minnesota, New Jersey, the Spurs (who were without GINOBILI! and Barry) and the Grizzlies. Hey, wins are wins and I’m not knocking them winning six in a row, but they’re not keeping this up all year.

• You may have seen my post from last week about my trip to Quizno’s with Lakers center Andrew Bynum. Well, in a suspicious bit of timing, less than a week after my post, guess who hired a nutritionist? Andrew Bynum! And I didn’t even mention how I found a receipt from McDonald’s on the floor in the front seat of his car.

• So…notice anything new around here? Yeah, we had a little nip/tuck on the front page of the site. This will be an ongoing process, as we occasionally shake things up a bit and try to keep everything fresh. There are still a few wrinkles here and there. Over the weekend, whenever you clicked on Sam’s column archive button on the main page, it took you to the website for our company’s King magazine. So it looked like Sam’s latest column was about how big girls are the popular thing right now.

• Really early Tuesday morning, I was battling sleep in my hotel bed in Paris, when I heard my Sidekick make the little alert noise it makes when it’s telling me I have a text message. It was from Sam, and the message read:

“Welcome back. Hope u watched new 24. Cause it is friggin insane!”

I had not watched the new “24” yet, but I woke up early this morning and watched four consecutive episodes, and I was left with some burning questions:
1) When Jack was finally released from the Chinese prison and basically handed over to the terrorists, why did they dress him up like Rain Man?

2) How did David Palmer’s brother Wayne get elected President? His only previous political experience was as David’s replacement chief-of-staff, right?

3) Anyone else realize the new girl at CTU is Audrey from Vegas Vacation?

4) When they turned Jack over to the terrorists, Buchanan and Curtis sure seemed certain that they’d never see him again. Which is completely ridiculous, because they surely know that Jack Bauer is the baddest man to ever live.

5) Regina King?

6) Kumar?

7) Is the goal of the show’s writers to make every Arab-American seem to be a possible terrorist? Because it sure seems like it so far.

8) Why did Jack have to kill Curtis? We all know that Jack could’ve shot the gun out of his hand or shot him in the shoulder or something. And why did Curtis all of a sudden become so unreliable?

9) So Assad was apparently a world-famous terrorist who just switches sides one day and immediately isn’t recognized by any of the younger terrorists working for Fayed? He even gives one dude a ride for almost an entire hour.

10) Could President Palmer be any worse at his job? It’s been four hours and he’s already made about six major decisions, all of which have backfired.

• Got a new mouse today for my computer, and it feels like I got an entirely new computer. My old mouse was like a bad relationship that I was stuck in, and I really didn’t know how much I was missing by using the old mouse.

• Rasheed flipped after practice yesterday, shouting expletives at Chris “The Machine” Sheridan from ESPN. The Machine has now had expletives hurled at him by Sheed and Sprewell, which is quite a twosome. Sheridan adds that Sheed pointed a bottle of orange soda at him. The post-practice drink of champions!

• I liked this story because the headline says “Bulls Win Tenth In A Row Over Hawks,” while the top of the web browser reads “Bulls win ninth in a row over Hawks.” So apparently my web browser is just a little more optimistic about the Hawks than the truth. And that’s fine with me.

• Went to the Suns/Knicks game last night, which wasn’t much of a game. The Knicks kept it close but it never felt like the Suns were going to lose. Jake’s notes are posted, and he ran the picture I sent him of our press table when a huge glass of Coke got loose up there. Khalid, Ben and I were all sitting in the upper press box, way up high. And next to us at the table was a guy and a girl, who looked like they may have been on a date. The guy looked almost exactly like Hawks GM Billy Knight. Anyway, the guy went to the concession stand as the second half started, and then he came back and set his food down and the Coke — a huge, huge glass of Coke — immediately fell over and went gushing all over the place.

It spilled away from us and toward homeboy’s date. Homeboy immediately took off running, we assumed to get napkins. (It’s even funnier if you imagine Billy Knight doing all this.) The Coke started settling and then started rolling down the table toward us. We grabbed our bags and phones off the table and scooted away from the press table, and some man behind us handed us a ton of napkins that we used to attempt to blot everything up.

About ten minutes later, homeboy returned with another huge Coke and about three napkins. He handed the napkins to his girl and she said, “This is all you brought?” Yep. But at least he got another 200 oz. Coke!

Later, Khalid pointed out that if they were on their first date, it wasn’t a very promising situation.

• How about last night’s “NBA Fastbreak” show (or whatever it is ESPN calls their NBA highlights program). Last night’s show was hosted by one of their interchangable anchors, and the lone analyst was WNBA superstar Swin Cash. Look, I’m all for gender equality, but can we get a WNBA player who can tell us something we don’t know? For instance, after a clip of Amare dunking off a nice pass from Steve Nash, Cash said something like, “If you’re a big man, you love playing with a guard who can get you the ball, so I know Amare loves playing with Steve Nash.”

Yes. Great.

• I came to this conclusion: Gilbert Arenas is the internet’s first Blog-fueled superstar. In the past, Gilbert would have been the kind of player who came along and got his features in SLAM and then SI and then would’ve been mentioned in the notes sections of various newspapers as a quirky dude. But blogs have limitless space, and Gilbert continually fills those areas.

It’s almost like Gilbert came into his own during the perfect storm. Blogs went crazy, and the voluminous Wizards blogs were all there to cover it and cover it well. Dan Steinberg’s DC Sports Bog has feasted on Gil info for the last few months, as has the Wizards beat writer blogs at the Post. All the fan blogs, from Wizznutz to MVN to Gilbertology and on and on have been there, covering Gilbert like crazy. Gil has a wacky birthday party? Everyone’s there! Gil gets the altitude adjusted at his house? Blog it! Even his “Agent Zero” nickname came from a blog. (Holler, Wizznutz.)

• How the hell did Joe Johnson not make the All-Star team? Seriously, how the hell did Vince Carter make the team over Joe Johnson? If anyone can explain that to me using logic and facts, I’m listening.

• Someone commented on yesterday’s Links post and asked why I hadn’t made any statement about John Amaechi yet. I didn’t comment on it because, to me, there’s really nothing worth joking about there. A guy announced that he’s not straight. OK? Everyone good with that?

So why can’t we all just move on? Because ESPN wants to make more money off John Amaechi’s sexual orientation.

• Hmm…

Wednesday, Jan. 31:
Lang writes about how blogs have helped make Gilbert Arenas the ultimate internet-fueled superstar.

Friday, Feb. 9:
The Wall Street Journal writes about how blogs have helped make Gilbert Arenas the ultimate internet-fueled superstar.

I’m just saying…